San Diego, CA–
What’s At Stake?
Forget all that talk about the NFL being a quarterback-driven league. It is to a degree but on a macro level the NFL is a what-have-you-done-lately league. Winning trumps it all and the Bucs are proof. The Bucs have become a part of the national football conversation in just two weeks after beating the Chiefs and Seahawks. Their place in that conversation is part of what’s on the line now. If the Bucs win this game they remain a part of that conversation and maybe even become a bigger part of it depending on what the Falcons and the teams currently ahead of them in the wild-card race do. Lose and they’re out. Yes, the NFL is that fickle. But hey, the truth of the matter is everyone loves a winner. The Bucs are winning now. Lose today and in addition to possibly losing their stake in the playoff race they lose a lot of love.
There was a time last spring when a lot of football insiders thought the Bucs might work a trade to get Joey Bosa with their first pick in the draft. It didn’t work out, which is just fine. The Bucs wound up grabbing Noah Spence in the second round and Spence currently ranks second among all rookie ends with 5.5 sacks. Bosa isn’t far behind. He’s got 4.5 sacks and could easily improve that mark this week, though he’ll likely have to beat an old nemesis to do it. Bucs left tackle and Penn State alum Donovan Smith had some of his best games as a collegian against Bosa, an Ohio State product. Now the two will be matched up again. Bosa has just half a sack in his last four games, an indication he may be tiring after missing all of training camp. The Bucs can only hope he doesn’t wake up with a sudden burst of energy today.
Clinton McDonald (above) is one of the best defensive linemen no one ever talks about. A savvy veteran with Super Bowl experience, McDonald is an outstanding pass rusher and he’s been at or near his best since returning from a hamstring strain a few weeks ago. In the last three weeks McDonald has racked up a sack, a quarterback hit and four QB hurries in 40 rush snaps, according to ProFootballFocus, and he’ll have a chance to improve on those numbers today. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is not very mobile. He really struggles to move laterally so the Bucs will likely gear their pass rush toward the middle of the Chargers line, where McDonald and Gerald McCoy will lead the way. If McDonald can continue to get the kind of penetration he’s been getting in recent weeks he and the Bucs pass rushers could be in for a second-straight big day.
He said it
“Why? Because he’s a hell of player, a tremendous talent. He has unbelievable anticipation. He’s a coach on the field. He’s tough and he’s underrated as a pocket-movement guy. He’s one of the best players in this league, year-in and year-out. He doesn’t maybe get as much credit as some guys that are a little bit more publicized than he is, but ask anybody that plays or coaches against him and they’ll tell you, he’s one of the best.” – Bucs coach Dirk Koetter on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers